What is an earwig?
The earwig gets its skin-crawling name from long-standing myths claiming the insect can climb inside a person’s ear and either live there or feed on their brain. While any small insect is capable of climbing in your ear, this myth is unfounded. Earwigs don’t feed on the human brain or lay their eggs in your ear canal.
Earwigs are small insects. They may be black or brown with red or orange markings. They have wings, and pincers protrude from the back of their abdomen. Their pincers are used for self-defense and to help catch their prey. They look like forceps.
They live in dark, moist environments, so they like to live in or near homes. They’re more likely to venture inside your house in the cold months. They feed on plants of all kinds.
An important thing to note about earwigs is that while they technically can bite, they rarely do. Instead, an earwig is more likely to pinch your skin and hold on tight. In some cases, the pinch might even be hard enough to break your skin or draw blood. However, it’s not as likely for an earwig to draw blood as it is for it to simply pinch and leave a swollen, red mark at the site.
The site of an earwig pinch can leave two red pinch marks that are spaced a small distance apart from one another. Sometimes, the pincers can break the skin and cause a small amount of bleeding. An earwig pinch site might become red and swollen. In most cases, the discomfort is mild and passes quickly.
Earwigs aren’t venomous. Pinches, or the very rare bites, shouldn’t cause long-term complications. Many heal quickly.
If you’re unsure whether an earwig has pinched you and think you might’ve been bitten by something else instead — like a mosquito or spider — inspect the site closely. With an earwig pinch, you shouldn’t be able to detect any puncture wounds near the site. You’re not likely to have a skin reaction.
Mosquito bites, by contrast, usually involve one miniscule puncture wound in the center of a swollen, itchy welt smaller than a dime. Spider bites often present as twin puncture wounds surrounded by a painful, hot welt that grows larger. It may even result in necrosis, or tissue death, in the center of the bite site.
An earwig’s pinch is a means of self-defense. Any time you come in contact with an earwig, you’re at risk of being pinched. This is especially the case if you try to pick it up. These insects won’t pinch unless you get close enough to touch them.
Like all insects, it’s possible for earwigs to get anywhere, including on furniture or even in your bed. Occasionally, an earwig infestation can occur. If earwigs have infested your home, call an exterminator to find the source of the infestation and get rid of them effectively.
If you’ve been pinched by an earwig, evaluate the area to make sure the skin isn’t broken. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and warm water.
If the skin is broken, apply topical antibacterial cream or gel to the site to prevent possible infection from occurring. If you’re experiencing redness or swelling, an ice pack should reduce the discomfort.
In most cases, the site should heal quickly without intervention from a doctor.
If you think the earwig’s pincers have broken off in your skin, it’s important to see a doctor immediately to get the fragments removed in a sterile and safe environment. If you remove the pincers at home, you run the risk of contaminating the area and possibly experiencing a skin infection.
Your doctor can inspect the site and prescribe any additional antibiotic or anti-inflammatory treatments. They’ll also provide follow-up instructions so you can continue to care for the site at home.
Earwigs tend to live in and hang around places where bacteria can grow and thrive, like soil, drains, and decaying plants. Because of this, their bites are capable of causing skin infections if they’re not properly cleaned immediately after being pinched.
This risk increases if the earwig’s pincers break off in the skin. In this case, the site may become swollen and firm. It may later form into a blister.
Without proper care, this blister could become infected and lead to skin infections like cellulitis. Symptoms of cellulitis include:
- red, inflamed skin in the affected area
- tenderness and pain around the pinch site
- tight, glossy-looking swelling of the skin around the site
- a rapidly growing rash or sore that appears suddenly
- an abscess in the center of the site that oozes pus
- warm sensation in the affected area
When cellulitis is severe, you may experience:
- general malaise
- aching muscles
- warm skin
In severe cases, a skin infection like this can become septic. This is a life-threatening systemic infection. You could be at risk of sepsis if you have:
- red streaks
If you’re experiencing these symptoms or similar, contact your doctor or visit the emergency room immediately. Sepsis is a medical emergency that must be treated in the hospital with intravenous antibiotics.
You can prevent earwig pinches by avoiding contact with earwigs whenever possible. If you find them in your home, you can add an extra layer of protection by wearing gloves on your hands before removing them.
The best way to prevent earwig pinches elsewhere in your house is to pinpoint any other areas where they might be getting in and taking steps to keep them from entering. They can come into your house through drains and under cracks in windows or doors.
To reduce earwig presence at home, you can:
- Keep moist areas in or around your home as dry as possible.
- Close sink and bathtub drains when not in use.
- Clear away any decaying plants in or outside the house.
- Seal openings in windows, doors, window screens, around pipes, and other entry points. Use mesh and caulking to do this.
- Sprinkle boric acid in cracks and slits where earwigs might come inside.
- Use chemical insect repellant if necessary.
- Vacuum up earwigs that you find inside the house when possible.